Massachusetts Sports Betting Debate Gets Feisty, as House Scolds Senate for Inaction
Posted on: March 9, 2022, 10:47h.
Last updated on: March 9, 2022, 11:58h.
Massachusetts is one of the most sports-obsessed states in the nation. But the Boston faithful still cannot legally place a bet inside their home state.
Some 31 states plus DC have passed laws to govern sports betting. Four directly neighbor Massachusetts — New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.
Most Massachusetts lawmakers agree that the commonwealth should join the crowd and get in on the regulated sports betting game. The House of Representatives last year passed a bill nearly unanimously to legalize sports betting. But the legislation was mothballed by a Senate committee.
House members are tired of waiting for the Senate to act. House Speaker Ronald Mariano (D-Norfolk) last week labeled the upper chamber “stubborn.”
State Sen. Michael Rodrigues (D-Bristol) chairs the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means Committee, which possesses the House’s approved sports betting bill. In response to Mariano and others’ criticism, Rodrigues told the State House News Service this week that she’s “fine” with the bill, but is awaiting input from industry stakeholders before moving the legislation forward.
The sports betting statute passed by the Massachusetts House last year — House Bill 3977 — gained 156 votes in support, to only three in opposition. The bill seeks to grant the state’s three casinos retail sportsbooks, plus allow each casino to partner with a third-party mobile operator like FanDuel. Mobile licenses would cost $5 million each.
HB 3977 becomes a bit more controversial with its language that says state horse racetracks conducting live racing would also qualify for in-person sportsbooks. Massachusetts is currently home to only a single live horse racing venue — Plainridge Park, where the state’s slots-only casino is located. Live racing no longer occurs at Suffolk Downs or the Brockton Fair.
“We are actively engaged in discussions and meetings with all the principals. It’s very complicated,” Rodrigues said of her committee’s progress regarding the sports betting bill.
“It’s very broad. We’re processing it,” Rodrigues added.
State Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Middlesex) also weighed in on the sports betting dilemma. She said senators are “all over the place” when it comes to the expanded gaming issue.
Spilka stated that “some sort of consensus” is needed before sports betting should be voted on.
HB 3977 proposes a 12.5 percent tax on sports betting gross gaming revenue generated in-person and 15 percent from online wagering. Some senators say the tax is too low.
State Sen. Eric Lesser (D-Hampden) is a proponent of legalizing sports betting. He introduced Senate Bill 269 last year to authorize gambling on sports — but only on professional games, not college. His statute also sought a higher sports betting GGR tax in the neighborhood of 20-25 percent.
Lesser’s bill — like HB 3977 — never made it out of a senate committee.
Connecticut, which shares the most border miles with Massachusetts, launched legal online sports betting and iGaming last October. Connecticut’s two tribal casinos — Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods — are respectively partnered with FanDuel and DraftKings.
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